Hour Building is a tricky subject to advise on because there are so many means and ways of building those much needed hours for your log book. So, for the purposes of simplicity and to save you from having to sort the wheat from the chaff, we’re going to focus mainly on the most popular ways to build hours.
Across The Pond
Hour building in the United States of America is probably one of the most hotly debated subjects within the general debate of hour building. Not only could it be an opportunity to experience different airspace, climates, weather systems and landscapes, but it could also be a fantastic opportunity for a once in a lifetime holiday, which may include your partner, friends or family. However, it isn’t as simple as popping in to your local travel agent and them doing all the hard work for you, you’ll have many things to consider, we take a look:
Whilst it is generally accepted that aircraft hire and the associated costs in the US can be much cheaper than here in the United Kingdom, it is up to you to ensure that you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances. When we say “best deal”, we’re not just talking financially. Flying in the US is a totally different ball game to here in the UK. FAA regulations can be comparatively very different to the ones you’re used to. But that being said, due to the pro-aviation attitude you’ll discover in the US, flying schools will bend over backwards to help you settle in.
For many, the first thing you should look into is getting yourself cleared to enter the United States of America. For many, this will be by simply applying for an ESTA at a cost of $14.00, but there is certain criteria you must meet in order to be eligible to apply for one. For those who aren’t eligible, you must apply for a full US Visa, which will involve a trip to the US Embassy in London and will cost you about $160.00 plus your travel. You will then need to get there. To keep the theme going, we suggest you fly there! Expect your return flights to cost you anywhere from several hundred pounds up to £1,500 depending on a number of factors including when you book and if you need any internal flights, you can plan your trip using sites such as Expedia or discount sites like KAYAK.
Accommodation will also be high on your list of priorities. Initially, as a part of your research, we suggest that you get in contact with your shortlist of potential schools to see if they have any associations or suggestions of affordable accommodation (some schools may actually provide accommodation in a package). But after that, the next, most cost effective way may well be using services such as Expedia and Airbnb. You’ll often find that the longer you stay, the cheaper accommodation can be. Our top tip with Airbnb is to make sure you’ve created yourself a detailed profile including a picture of yourself. This will help you getting your bookings accepted. Often the landlords will require people to have certain details of their profile filled in.
As well as dealing with your travel and accommodation, you will also need to apply to the FAA for an Airmen Certification which, in turn will require you to send a form (SRG 1160) to the CAA for them to release your information to the FAA. The CAA will charge you £44.00 for this.
Detailed guidance on how to complete this process can be found on both the FAA’s website and the CAA’s website. Make sure you allow plenty of time to complete this process and if you’re not sure on any part of the application or process, contact the FAA. You could even head down to your local school as there will likely be someone there with experience of flying in the US.
Many of the 50 states of America are covered by large swathes of uncontrolled airspace and as such, you’re pretty much free to come and go as you please. But in the more populated areas, such as Los Angeles and New York, airspace can be complicated, busy and sometimes difficult, but not impossible, to negotiate.
Considerations like these all lead into potentially the biggest question you’ll have to ask yourself – “Where do I hour build?”. This may or may not come as a shock to you, but when looking at locations, you should take plenty of time to consider what the weather will be like at your chosen time of year. The US has fast moving weather systems, that can change very quickly and change very severely. Some states will also experience weather seasons. For example, in 2018, the Hurricane Season in the state of Florida will be from June through till November. And as we all know, hurricanes aren’t conducive to good flying. So we would suggest that you avoid flying in Florida during this period. In some of the more southern states like Arizona, at certain times of year, temperature is one of the biggest factors to hinder your flying. Higher density attitudes can reduce engine power and reduce the lift capabilities of the wings and also make the aerofoils less effective. There is also the turbulence caused by convection and the mountain wave effect to contend with. You can get a general outlook on weather from the Holiday Weather website which includes historical data and averages.
Popular locations for hour building in the United States of America include Florida, Arizona and California. Each have their pros and cons at various times of the year. Do your research!
Back To Your Roots
So you’ve completed your PPL training with your local school and ready to go out into the big wide world and go flying on your own. But have you thought about heading back to your school to private hire the aircraft you trained in? There are a number of advantages to this. You may have already paid up your membership fee for the school, meaning you’re fully covered to fly the aircraft without having to pay any additional fees for insurance etc. The school trained you, so the likely hood is that you won’t be required to complete a check ride like you would if you were going somewhere new. You will also be familiar with the aircraft, airfield and the surrounding area, which takes some of the stress out of flying.
Another factor to bear in mind is accommodation costs, if your airfield is local then you will be able to right-off any additional living costs as you’ll be staying put at home!
However, and this is a pretty big however, private hire rates from schools tend to be pretty expensive when comparing wet lease from a private owner for example. If we use a Piper PA28 as our example aircraft. A quick search on the internet shows private hire rates of anywhere between £140.00 and £180.00. Which, when you’ll be aiming to complete anywhere up to 100hrs of hour building can become extortionately expensive. Then there is the issue of availability and flexibility. Many schools will not allow you to take the aircraft on long cross countries and over night trips.
Check out our School Directory to find your local school.
Planning for the Future
Another option you can look at is hiring from the commercial school that you intend to complete your commercial flight training with. However, you’ll be faced with exactly the same problems that you’d be faced with if you looked to hire from your PPL school. There is a couple of advantages that you may wish to consider before ruling out this option completely. Firstly, spending time flying with the organisation you intend to use in the future will give you chance to become familiar with that organisation, its aircraft and the airfield its based at. You’ll also become familiar with the aircraft as well as the local area and airspace that you’ll be doing your training in. One less thing to worry about while you’re trying to get used to a new aircraft with an extra spinning thing for example.
The other issue you’ll find with hiring from commercials schools is how they prioritise aircraft hire. It is often the case that they will prioritise time in aircraft to students that are completing their Instrument and other ratings. Aircraft, to hour builders, will then only become available at very short notice and for very short periods. So it can be impossible for you to plan your time. It may be good for you to complete a couple of ‘trial’ hours there before starting full time with them, but we don’t really view this as a viable long term option.
Time to Make New Friends
This option requires a little bit of luck and a little bit of willing. Its time to become a fully fledged member of the aviation community at your airfield. You may wish to try and employ the services of your instructor or someone at your school to help you get in there. Whilst integrating yourself within that community, you may find a willing aircraft owner or group that’ll let you hour build in their aircraft. This may involve you becoming a non-equity share holder of an aircraft, for example. There is no set rate for this as its up to the owner or the group how much they want to charge you. Its likely that they will not want to make a profit from you and as such will want to cover the cost of their fuel, landings, hangerage, maintenance and engine fund. It may also involve you paying a premium to get yourself added to their group insurance, depending on how many hours you have and the requirements of their insurance company. This method of hour building is usually cheaper than private hiring a comparable aircraft from a school but ultimately, if it doesn’t work for you, you can politely decline their offer.
The Other Options
You could also try getting in touch with your local Gliding Club and ask whether they require any tow pilots or your local Aerial Photography company and letting them know your available. However, this raises the debate of the privileges of your license and how you’re not allowed to be paid to fly on a PPL. Legislation is constantly changing and if you’re seriously considering this an options, its important to work with the gliding club or the aerial photography company to ensure that both you and them are doing things legally.
You can also consider going somewhere else, other than the USA, to hour build. Many integrated schools send student to New Zealand for their flying. And you can read the occasional forum post from someone who has had a positive experience hour building in Eastern European countries like Hungary or Poland, or even South Africa. In these instances, as well as the considerations talked about in the section about the USA, there may also be the issue of the language barrier, both in the air and on the ground.
Everyone has a different personal situation and ultimately you will need to figure out what is right for you and your situation, there is no one-fit solution. Make sure to research each option carefully. Have your budget in mind, imagine every eventuality and plan for it.
Finally, once you work out which route is best for you, don’t forget to have a plan for your hour building. Check out Our Aid to your Hour Building.